The idea of freedom can be taken for granted pretty easily nowadays. We face so many choices on a daily basis that we might forget what it means even to have a choice. How often do we consider it when we enter the library looking for a book to read?
What if we were not allowed access to something on the mere basis that someone else disagreed with its contents and thought it should be removed?
Libraries and schools have been subjected to removal requests from circulation or the curriculum (ie. challenges) over the years due to material that is deemed offensive or inappropriate.
Just this month, a Tennessee high schooler's parent found The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, a former New York times bestseller, to be inappropriate for her son's class reading list, due to what she thought to be its pornographic nature. The school allowed her son to pick an alternate text, but the parent wanted the book removed from consideration for all high school students.
This and other attempts at censorship fly in the face of the Library Bill of Rights compiled by the American Library Association (ALA). Article III of this list states
"Libraries should challenge censorship in the fulfillment of their responsibility to provide information and enlightenment".
One way libraries challenge censorship is raising awareness about it. Enter Banned Books Week. Coming this September 27-October 3. Banned Books Week is an annual campaign that spotlights attention on our freedom to read.
It provides us an opportunity to recognize titles that have been challenged and even banned in some parts of our country. Here is a list of the most challenged titles in 2014 and one for the most challenged classic novels. While these lists may be unsettling in nature, the response to these challenges can be inspirational.
Bookmans, an independent bookstore in Arizona crafts a Youtube video in honor of Banned Books Week every year. This one is from 2012.
Banned Books Week is not a time for readers to feel beseiged and on-set by various factions. Rather, it's a time for us to reflect on how books can help us view the world with independent, adventurous and benevolent eyes.
As a last thought, a quote from the book for our next Books to Film program in November seems appropriate. We will be reading V for Vendetta by Alan Moore (an author who is no stranger to writing works that have been challenged and banned), In the book, the main character named V, who never removes his mask, states:
"Behind this mask there is more than just flesh. Beneath this mask there is an idea... and ideas are bulletproof".